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David Cameron will re-enter the Scottish independence campaign on Thursday warning that much of the nation’s industry could be under threat from a Yes vote because it is underpinned by membership of the UK.
The prime minister is expected to tell a dinner hosted by the CBI employers’ group in Glasgow that Scotland does twice as much trade with the rest of the UK as the rest of the world put together and that the financial services industry could be particularly at risk.
His intervention comes as the battle between pro and anti-independence businesspeople ahead of the September 18 vote continued with 200 Yes supporters writing an open letter to The Herald newspaper in a bid to counter a salvo from 130 of their counterparts calling for the UK to stay together.
Sir Brian Souter, the Stagecoach chairman and nationalist donor; Jim McColl, the chairman and chief executive of Clyde Blowers; and Ralph Topping, the former chief executive of bookmaker William Hill, are among the signatories of the letter to The Herald.
They say independence would give Scotland the power “to give our many areas of economic strength even more of an advantage in an increasingly competitive world”, adding it would provide “more opportunities for our talented and determined young people to stay and succeed”.
Mr Cameron is expected to focus on the economy in his speech, saying that the union “is one of the oldest and most successful single markets in the world”.
“Scotland does twice as much trade with the rest of the UK than with the rest of the world put together – trade that helps to support one million Scottish jobs,” he is expected to say.
“For some industries, the proportion of trade with the rest of the UK is even higher – 90 per cent of Scottish financial services’ customers are in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Then there’s the world-famous gaming industry, cutting-edge subsea technology and life-saving biomedicine – all selling far more outside Scotland than inside.
“This success doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because of the skill of people in Scotland and the opportunities that come from being part of something bigger, a large domestic market, underpinned by a common currency, common taxes, common rules and regulations, with no borders, no transaction costs, no restrictions on the flow of goods, investment or people. Ours really is an economy of opportunity.”
Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, has challenged Mr Cameron to name job-creating powers that Scotland will enjoy with a No vote. He said six such powers guaranteed with a Yes vote were control over the business tax system, finance, air passenger duty, employment policy, trade policy and immigration policy.
In a televised debate with Mr Salmond on Monday, Alistair Darling, the head of the Better Together campaign, was unable to name three similar powers being offered to Scotland in the event of a No vote.
The Yes campaign says more than 2,500 businesspeople have joined their Business for Scotland group. The Herald letter signatories, who mostly represent small and medium businesses, say they employ 50,000 people but stress they are not speaking for their workers.
On Tuesday, 130 businesspeople organised by Keith Cochrane of Weir Group, who claimed to represent “the vast bulk of the business community in Scotland”, wrote to The Scotsman newspaper saying the business case for Scottish independence “has not been made”.
In contrast to the Herald signatories, many work for bigger businesses. They included Iain Napier, the chairman of John Menzies, Simon Thomson, chief executive of Cairn Energy, and Douglas Flint, chairman of HSBC Holdings.
The pro-independence letter said successive Labour and Conservative governments had failed to support and value Scotland’s economy. “Scottish industry is often treated as a cash cow rather than a strategically important part of a more prosperous and fairer society,” it says.
Separately, the Scotsman newspaper quoted Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Scottish secretary as saying that in the event of a Yes vote he would, if invited, resign and join the team negotiating the terms of independence with London.
He is the first prominent anti-independence politician to indicate his willingness to change sides.
“I mean, if Scotland votes for independence then I will still want to be part of Scottish public political life,” Mr Carmichael is quoted as saying. “I would have to be realistic about what could be achieved, but you know I am not walking away from Scottish politics.”
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